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updated: 8/18/2014 8:40 PM

'Snowpiercer' leads train of on-demand gems

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  • Mason (Tilda Swinton), center, is taken prisoner by rebel leader Curtis (Chris Evans), left, and Tanya (Octavia Spencer), right, in "Snowpiercer."

    Mason (Tilda Swinton), center, is taken prisoner by rebel leader Curtis (Chris Evans), left, and Tanya (Octavia Spencer), right, in "Snowpiercer."

  • Video: "Happy Christmas" trailer

  • Video: "A Long Way Down" trailer

  • Video: "They Came Together" trailer

  • Video: "Angriest Man in Brooklyn"

  • Video: "Snowpiercer" trailer


"Snowpiercer" -- the buzzworthy science-fiction flick by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho and starring "Captain America" himself, Chris Evans -- opened in a small number of Chicago-area theaters on July 4, but you can already watch it from the comfort of your own home. (Legally, even!)

The film about a revolt aboard a globe-circling supertrain that contains the planet's entire population has won nearly universal critical acclaim, including a four-star rave from our man Dann Gire. ("A cracked-out, constantly surprising visionary work of extraordinary power and intelligence, plus gut-wrenching violence of the first order," Gire says.)

Since it's still in theaters, a digital rental of "Snowpiercer" costs you a little more than your average pay-per-view movie -- expect to pay around $7 -- but fans of sci-fi get their money's worth, between the bleak view of Earth's latest ice age, Evans' tortured lead performance, and two fearless, darkly funny turns from the great Tilda Swinton and "Newsroom" star Alison Pill.

"Snowpiercer" is available for digital rental from iTunes, Google Play, vudu, YouTube and other online video services.

Also available on demand

The business model that put "Snowpiercer" on theater and home screens almost simultaneously is increasingly popular as big-budget fare like "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" forces smaller films out of the multiplex, even in this age of 30-screen behemoths.

Premium-priced pay-per-view is a great way for smaller studios and/or riskier films to find an audience that doesn't want to watch giant robots or put up with texting teenagers at the movie theater.

Here are some notable films you probably never heard of that recently premiered on VOD services:

"The Angriest Man in Brooklyn," a comedy from "Field of Dreams" director Phil Alden Robinson about a man (Robin Williams) who has 90 minutes to live. How's this for a cast: Peter Dinklage, Melissa Leo, Mila Kunis, James Earl Jones and Sutton Foster! (Available from vudu)

"Happy Christmas," the new film from Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg (last year's wonderful "Drinking Buddies"), stars Anna Kendrick as a young woman who trades party time for family time when she moves in with her brother and his family. Melanie Lynskey and Lena Dunham also star. (Available from Amazon Instant Video, vudu and Redbox Instant)

"A Long Way Down," an adaptation of the Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity," "About a Boy") novel about four strangers who meet when they all decide to commit suicide in the same place. The strangers are played by Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul of "Breaking Bad" and rising star Imogen Poots. (Available from vudu, YouTube, Xbox Live and Sony Entertainment Network)

"They Came Together," a spoof of romantic comedies starring big-time comedians Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, made by the director of "Wanderlust," "Role Models" and "Wet Hot American Summer." How does a comedy with this pedigree not get a shot at mainstream success? (Available from iTunes, Google Play, vudu, YouTube)

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture.

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